“Propaganda: information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.” (Dictionary.com)
It comes from the same root as propagate, which word makes the idea clearer because we know that “to propagate” is to cause something to grow. So when we “spread widely” information, ideas or rumours in a way designed to make an “idea, rumour or information” grow, we are engaging in propaganda. This one—and any other blog posts of mine—are propaganda. Televised, YouTubed evangelistic services are propaganda, as are all political broadcasts, flyers of any kind distributed to mailboxes, all advertising, etc., etc. If it’s “widely distributed” in order to propagate any idea, rumour or information, it’s propaganda. At least by the Dictionary.com definition.
Question may arise: how wide does it have to be to qualify as “widely distributed?”
None of us need to be told, I’m sure, that the internet, smart phones, email and social media—following hard upon the heels of television, radio and the telephone—have very rapidly increased the volume of propaganda to which we can be subjected on a daily basis. The problem is that the legitimate communication (actual reports of what’s going on in the world, in our community and with people we care about) and propaganda (opinion, distortion and persuasion) are all mixed together. The human mind’s ability to sort out which is which has become—in a single generation—a most necessary skill.
It’s mightily disconcerting to admit that our thinking and acting may have been influenced by propaganda; we would rather not be thought of as brainwashed, manipulated, baffled by bullshit. The fact is, though, that elections are won and lost, war sentiment is successfully propagated, people become rich selling hula hoops based entirely on who plays the propaganda game most skillfully. And every propagandist knows how gullible, how persuadable we are; every successful propagandist has studied and learned the techniques that are most effective in influencing the broadest possible audience.
A few defensive moves I’ve picked up in my reading on this question:
- In school and at home, teach children logic and reason, encourage them to question more than to answer and don’t spoon-feed them your opinions as facts.
- Educate yourself in identifying propaganda: who’s saying it, how are they saying it, what ideas are they hoping I'll embrace, or what actions are they hoping I’ll take, etc.?
- Govern your communications: If you want to be on Facebook, for instance, form a “secret group” and invite only the people you want to hear from, and don’t post personal information and photos to the general public.What you say is being sold to advertisers who will begin to target you with propaganda based on the interests you reveal.
- Get your information from the least-biased sources: BBC, CBC, CTV, PBS, Huffpost, possibly, and avoid Fox, CNN, Rebel, RT, ILTV and other sources that have an obvious “leaning.” And even if you’re watching a more trusted, more equitable source, be critical of the way propaganda tends to creep in; no news outlet is pure, no reporter without personal bias.
- Read books! Books aren’t all great, but chosen well, they represent background that has often taken an author years of researching, and hours and hours of dedicated grinding away. Books can be propaganda as well as any other communication, of course, so be critical and be aware that if you’re reading only books that support your already-held opinions, you're welcoming propaganda to come in and make itself at home in your head.
This is a critical time in world affairs. We can’t let the propagandists have the last laugh.